Social Media: Not a Problem?

11 March 2013 by Adrienn Toth

We think we understand social media, it’s simple, right? It’s the medium whereby we create, share and exchange information and ideas in virtual social groups. However, like many organisations, I’ve never fully understood its place in the complex areas of our lives. We constantly hear that the work/life or the public/private boundaries are blurred in today’s society and there’s no denying that social media has had its part to play. To bring this back into context, I wanted to explore the increasing importance of managing social media as evidence.

Evidence is typically found within lines of communication, so it is inevitable that we will begin to see more lawsuits and criminal proceedings focused on social networking. However, whether you’re looking to request or disclose social media content to judge its relevance in litigation, or analyse it as part of an investigation, there are potential roadblocks that are likely to get in the way.

More often than not disclosure orders include electronically stored information (ESI) within the remit of what is to be produced. Typically this includes email, office based documents, data stored on mobile devices and now we begin to see requests for data stored in the cloud and content generated via social media. So, other than the obvious challenge of having to locate the data, imagine the time and internal cost of collecting and reviewing all of your employees’ computers and mobile devices. Now imagine expanding that to your company’s social media websites and then to each individual employee!

This is not to say that social media content is difficult to access. For example, the High Court has ordered Facebook on a number of occasions to disclose details of its users to identify them to assist in defamation claims. But is social networking content deemed valuable? Most give little thought to the consequences of their posts or blogs, but this is to the wrongdoer’s detriment, as social media is not exempt from disclosure in civil or criminal proceedings and, like any evidence, can be the smoking gun needed to prosecute.

So, we can’t escape it, social media is here to stay, in work and our private lives but what advice can we give when having to handle it? Most importantly, get control. Set out clear polices and regulate where your data is; inform your employees that social media is part of YOUR data control. Make it clear from day one that social media is discloseable and constantly remind your employees that policies are in place to protect your data, and what they post on Facebook or Twitter might come back to haunt them.